Saturday, June 4, 2011

Jesus is just alright!

Jesus is just all right with me
Jesus is just all right, Oh yeah
Jesus is just all right with me
Jesus is just all right

I don't care what they may know
I don't care where they may go
I don't care what they may know
Jesus is just all right, oh yeah
Jesus is just all right

DISRESPECTFUL! BLASPHEMOUS! RiDICULOUS! Those were my first thoughts when I heard the Doobie Brothers' song, "Jesus is just alright" in the early 1970s. "Get it...Jesus is JUST alright! (I thought). That is wrong to say that! God might kill them for saying that." What did I know? I was just a little kid in Leavittsburg, Ohio. We did not grow up in Church. The names of God and Jesus were invoked in my home on a daily basis, in no uncertain terms. But, they were not spoken out of reverence, or even out of respect. BUT, I always knew about God, for as long as I can remember. Even as a pre-schooler, I felt He was always there, watching me. This doesn't make me any more holy than somebody else, but it is just an awareness that I had. I knew He loved me, and I knew HE was in charge. The Big Boss. He held our lives in His hands and boy, was He going to be pissed when He heard the Doobie Brothers' song!
What is my point? Well, I just heard the song in question again, thanks to the miracle of utube. When I first heard the song, it was on a .45 rpm record. At that time, only NASA had computers, and maybe a few big universities.
One's perspectives change over the years. After being a little wiser, and having had some good old fashioned life experiences, you "see the big picture". This blog is about paradigms, and we are about to deal with one of the biggest paradigms of them all, and THE most significant one...our paradigm of God. A little background information, if you please:

Back in the 1060s and 1970s, America went through a weird stage where some, but not all, of its youth were questioning authority. Without getting into a historical dissertation on all that, let me make a bare bones, true statement. Some rebellion is bad, but some is good. There was plenty of bad during that time, in my view. But, there was also some good. NO societal paradigm can ever change without people standing up to convention and questioning authority. At significant times in history, people have stood up and said, "Enough Already!" The get fed up, frustrated, and angry. That foments change.
I think one of the most historically overlooked developments in that period is the Jesus Movement, aka The Jesus People, or just plain old "Jesus Freaks". This movement began in California and spread East. It was one of the most benevolent, sincere youth movements in 20th Century American history. The real shame is how it is rarely explored as a significant part of Church history.
Remember, I said there is BAD rebellion. Brats who rebel against all that is right with America. Many of the men who suffered through the depression, then put their lives on the line during the Second World War and Korea, simply could not understand how young men could grow their hair long like a girl, scream and strum on those blasted electric guitars, while questioning the country that THEY, Moms and Dads, had built for them. Well, let's leave that now, because volumes have been written on it. Let's talk about GOOD rebellion.
The Jesus Movement was comprised of young people who loved the Lord, and threw off the stale old conventions of the American church. They saw a Deep South, where church going was the order of the day. It was a social norm. Something was WRONG with you if you did not go to church. Why, you might even get thrown out of the local Rotary Club. Yet, these same "church goin' folk", would never allow a black person (euphemism) come in to worship with them. They would rationalize by saying things like "They would rather worship with their own kind." These same "Christians" enforced Jim Crow and blocked schoolhouse doors to resist integration. They were the same hypocritical Bible thumpers who beat the Freedom Riders, killed a man named Medgar Evers for registering black voters, and blew up a Baptist church, killing a couple of little girls, while the White Church stood by. Church goers went to Klan meetings at night, where they planned the next lynching of a black man who may have cavorted with white women. I am not making this stuff up. It is not just a caricature. This is the type of thing that repulsed these young people, when they fell in love with Jesus.
Guess what? The Northern churches had issues, as well. Throughout history, people have prostituted out God's Church to their own ends. Business people used it to network. Politicians have used it to gain influence in the community. Red baiters used to associate Christianity with being American, to the exclusion of other nations, as in "God hates those ungodly commies". Even preachers, as they have done throughout history, used the church to fleece their flocks or just as an ego trip. If a "hippy", i.e. someone with long hair, went into some of these churches, they would get a cool reception indeed. In some churches, to wear jeans and not a necktie, or a dress, would be a serious issue with some people.
Jesus spoke about this:
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead mens' bones and all uncleanness. Even so, you outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness." Matthew 23: 27-28.
If I was in charge of ordaining pastors, I would require them to MEMORIZE the entire 23rd chapter of Matthew, then explain what it means to them. John 10:13 refers to hypocritical pastors as "hirelings", and He explains how they will scatter to the wind when their flocks need them the most.
So, get it? They kids were saying, "Hey, we want to be the real McCoy! We love Jesus. We want to proclaim that, celebrate Him, and freely share His love with others. We want to show the rest of the world that Christians don't have to be bigots. They don't have to sing southern gospel, wear a necktie or dress, and they can wear their hair as long as they please" (the words are mine, but I think this sums it up). Imagine that! FREEDOM in Christ? Well, gee whiz, maybe they will be inspired to read their Bible and see how it is all about freedom and love, instead of just quoting it out of context, to their own purposes.
So, I hope I have made my point. Now, back to the song, and the reason I have a picture of a black Jesus (or African American, or whatever we are supposed to say today). JESUS IS JUST ALRIGHT was written as a GOSPEL song. Surprise, surprise! It was written Arthur Reid Reynolds, and recorded by the Art Reynolds singers. Later is was recorded by The Byrds, but it really blasted off when The Doobie Brothers recorded a high tempo version.
Every generation has their slang and the 1960s, early 1970s were no exception. "Alright" was a very positive word in Jesus People parlance. It meant "great", "outstanding", "super cool", or "awesome". It did not carry today's connotation of mediocrity (as in, "I dunno, I guess it is just alright"). This song meant JESUS IS JUST ALRIGHT. NOTHING LESS. In the words of the song, "He took me by the hand,led me far from this land. Jesus is my friend.".
This song is just one small example of how bigotry can twist someone's perspective on The Gospel. This song was a sincere expression of love, from a disenfranchised song writer, who found that finding Jesus was the coolest thing that ever happened him. It is kind of like the Zulu tribesman who jumps up and down with a ceremonial spear, in traditional dance, and proclaims his love for Jesus in his own culture, (yes, this happens). If you like southern gospel(and I do like some of it myself), or wear a neck tie and work in a bank, if you are a multimillionaire, great. Use the gifts God has given you for His glory. However, not everyone looks like you. Not everyone dresses like you. Not everyone thinks exactly like you, or likes the food you like. But we are ALL known by our love.
I read a book recently, by a pastor in Los Angeles who decided to live in the streets, as a homeless person, as a launch to his ministry. He decided, before he could begin an inner city church, he needed to understand the people t whom he was going to minister. A church deacon, who used to live homeless in the LA's Skid Row district, after advising the pastor not to do it, finally relented, but gave him some advice. He said, "They gonna know you not from there. You can't fool 'em. They can smell ya. But, if you gonna' do this fool thing anyway, here." He gave him a big Bible. He said, "Have this on you at all times." "Why?", the pastor asked. "Cuz them addicts, they ain't dressed very nice, and they don't have nothing, but they fear God. They fear Him, 'cuz they got nothin' BUT God to hope for. They'll leave you alone if they know you's a God man." The pastor carried the Bible, his talisman, and he was "alright".
Now....about the picture at the top, of the Black Jesus. Does it bother you? Hmmm. There is another popular song that was recorded by, among other people, Johnny Cash, entitled, "My own personal Jesus". I conceive of Him as white, and somebody else conceives of Him as black. Maybe we are both right...or wrong. Who cares? That is why he is PERSONAL.

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